By Carmel Karni — See the recipe
I grew up in an Israeli community called a Kibbutz. Both my parents were born there as well. The members of the community ate their meals at a communal dining hall, and their small one-bedroom houses did not have full kitchens, only a small oven, a portable camping stove and a kettle. Their kids lived in separate communal children’s houses. Like most Kibbutz founders, my grandmother left her family in Europe as a young teen. She always told us that she never learned how to cook. She was, however, a wonderful and confident baker.
Every Friday afternoon our extended family would squeeze into my grandparents tiny house to celebrate Shabbat together. My grandma always had the table set with a lovely table cloth displaying one or two cakes from her wonderful roster of ever-changing-cakes. My grandpa would make ice coffee, squeeze fresh oranges and grapefruit in winter; slices of watermelon or cantaloupe in summer. There were salted and roasted pecans from their tree. But the star of our weekly afternoon meal was her cheese bourekas that she would prepare the night before and have baking in her oven when we walked through the door. There could not be a Friday afternoon without them.
Many years have passed since those childhood afternoons spent at Savta and Saba's; I cherish and miss their languid, relaxed rhythm. Everyone rested, dressed for Shabbat and ready for the weekend mingles in my memory with the taste of her food. I am the oldest grandchild in the family and would often come over to “help” my grandma make her pastries on Thursday afternoons. I have been recreating her recipes with the help of her (rather cryptic) recipe book and my own memory.
A note about authenticity- I firmly believe that since we have better access to ingredients now (I really don’t need to use margarine!) recipes should be recreated with better ingredients. The dough for this bourekas is my version of an old fashioned classic dough that was widely used around the country and went under a few names (Leben dough, or Shekem dough for example) it is a very simple dough consisting of three parts flour to one part fat and one part fermented dairy (yogurt, sour cream and the likes) I have been playing with it for a few years and I find that with butter and some whole grain, it becomes an especially tasty, and surprisingly modern dough. With a little rough-puff folding it gets excellent layers when baked. As a bonus, it’s much easier and forgiving than puff pastry.
Like my grandma, I use it for so many pastries, both savory and sweet (with less salt and a touch of sugar) I hope that it will become a favorite of yours too.
Sabta's Bourekas Recipe
- 3/4 cup AP flour
- 3/4 cup spelt/whole wheat/kamut flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2cup (one stick) very cold butter, cut into smallish cubes
- 1/2 cup yogurt
- 1 or 2 tablespoons ice cold water (if needed)
- Bourekas filling of your choice (recipes below)
- 1 egg, lightly whisked
- Seeds (sesame, poppy, nigella etc.) for sprinkling
In a food processor, whiz the flours and salt until combined. Add the butter and pulse about 8 times, Until the butter is in bean-sized chunks. Add the yogurt and pulse a couple more times. Open your food processor and check the dough. It should look like wet crumbs. If the dough looks too dry, add ice water one tablespoon at a time pulse a couple of times and check again. The dough is ready when it sticks together when pinched. Resist mixing it further. Pour on a clean counter, gather into a disc shape, cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for at least an hour and up to a day.
When ready to continue, take the dough out and flatten it with the palms of your hand into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. Do not worry about the shape of your dough. Fold into an envelope shape (one third over center and the last third above that) turn a quarter turn, flatten with the palms of your hands and repeat fold. Repeat again. Don’t try to be meticulous or put in a lot of effort. This should take only a couple of minutes. After your last fold, wrap in plastic and put the dough in the fridge. Leave for at least 1/2 an hour, then take dough out and repeat the process.
The dough should be less crumbly now and you can begin using a rolling pin to make your turns. Place dough back in the fridge. Repeat process one last time.
Once you finish, prepare two sheet pans with parchment paper. Then roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick. Cut your rolled out dough into 2”x2” squares and place about 1 tb of filling in each. Fold each square into a tangle and pinch the dough shut with your fingers. Place 1 inch apart on your prepared sheet pans, then paint with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds (if desired) heart your oven to 375. In the meantime, place your pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes until your oven heats up. Bake the bourekas for about 25 minutes or until puffy and golden.
Mix 1/2 cup good feta (I like sheep milk) with 1/2 cup of cottage cheese or ricotta and a couple tb of grated agreed cheese like Parmesan or Romano. Taste for salt. It should be fairly salty (you only use about a tb of filling in each pastry)
Cheese and greens
Stream a a half bunch chard or 1 bunch spinach in salted water for a couple of minutes until wilted, cool and squeeze water out with a clean towel. Chop fine. Mix with 1/3 cup feta and a couple tb of cottage cheese or ricotta to make the mixture stick together. You can add herbs and or nutmeg if you wish. Taste for salt.
Sauté diced onion and mushrooms in some butter or olive oil. With some garlic and thyme and salt to taste. Once cooled chop the mixture finely.